The narration of conflicts is entrusted to geopolitical analysis and to news reports: our days are crowded with words and images, causing a sort of numbness to tragedy by endless repetition. But there is a lens capable of showing us facts and interpretations, an upside-down view of things that crosses the boundary between life and its representation: art, and those forms of artistic resistance that give a voice and form to the unsaid, to things whispered, to the implicit. They are hard-hitting statements that are sculpted, painted and shouted; they tear asunder the opaque veil of indifference.
Perhaps the most well-known example of this endeavor remains today “Guernica,” the canvas that Picasso painted after the bombardment of the Basque city of the same name. After centuries when war was sung, celebrated, and exalted by artists and patrons, the Spanish master casts upon the canvas his judgment of the atrocity and unreasonableness of war. On a colorless background, dismembered bodies and disfigured faces are intertwined with the disjointed screams of men and animals: a dramatic vision of the consequences of hate and violence, a timeless icon. Picasso composes a work to be heard, an appeal that transcends the spatial and temporal boundaries of the 20th century.
How emblematic then is the decision taken by the staff of the American Secretary of State, Colin Powell, just before the proclamation of the war in Iraq in 2003, to place a cover over the reproduction of the painting in the antechamber of the hall of the Council of the United Nations, in New York! The U.N. spokesman, Fred Eckhard, justified the decision, speaking of a possible “visual confusion.”
Picasso’s painting is perhaps the most famous heir of a pictorial tradition that passes through the Flemish painting of Hieronymus Bosch and his infernal representations of the 15th century, the great allegory of Rubens entitled “The Consequences of War,” painted in 1638 to denounce to the world the uselessness and devastating effects of the Thirty Years War, the crude expressiveness of the prints of “The Disasters of War,” by Francisco Goya, and his most famous painting, “The Third of May 1808.”